Before the ball-point pen, writing in ink was a much messier affair. The fountain pen, which had a reservoir filled with ink, was much easier to write with than a dip pen, but still prone to smudging and taking valuable time to refill. This is where László Bíró, born 117 years ago today on 29 September 1893, came in. A Google Doodle commemorates the occasion.
Bíró was a newspaper journalist in Budapest, Hungary, who found these aspects of the fountain pen frustrating. Having noticed that the ink used to print newspapers was fast-drying, he attempted to use it in a fountain pen, only to find it was too thick to flow into the nib.
Previously, American inventor John Jacob Loud had patented a design for a ballpoint pen in America in 1888, with a ball in a socket that evenly distributed ink as it rolled. Loud had been unable to refine his invention to work on paper. Bíró, however, had a secret weapon: his brother György, a chemist. Together, the pair developed an ink that was viscous enough to work evenly with the ball-socket pen design, yet wouldn't dry out in the barrel.
The pair filed a British patent on June 15, 1938. In 1945, Marcel Bich, co-founder of Bic, bought the patent, and the ballpoint pen soon became the company's flagship product. However, in memory of its inventor, the pen is still referred to as a biro around the globe.